Renowned and critically acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., over the span of his life, published 14 novels and 3 short story collections along with a number of plays and works of non-fiction. His signature style, as one commentator stated, is “caustically sarcastic,” but the short film “The Foster Portfolio” is anything but that. While he looks at human nature and what drives us, this story unfolds like a colorful mystery, steeped in tones of sepia. Directed by Danielle Katvan and starring Roe Hartrampf as Jim Crane, the young, ambitious, but still wet behind the ears investment banker, the story takes place many decades ago. Crane visits a possible new customer, Herbert Foster (Joel Nagle) in his tiny and very unassuming home. Hesitant, Crane begins a conversation that quickly becomes cloaked in secrecy. What he reveals has the potential to change everyone’s lives…but will it?
While the story takes place perhaps in the 1950’s it could be today as people and their motivations really don’t change over the decades. Crane is a go-getter, but his bubble begins to burst as he takes one look at the modest home he is about to enter. Meeting the reserved couple to discuss “bonds” and investments, Crane becomes dismissive. Foster pulls him aside, behind closed doors, and reveals a great wealth. Crane looks at him a bit differently as he fords ahead to manage his funds. But there’s something puzzling. Why must this remain a secret and why does Foster continue to work several jobs? Crane sets out on his own personal journey of detective work to solve the mystery before him. The film expertly peels away the layers of human nature to expose our inner-most wants and desires as Crane must find out what makes this man tick.
Taking the complexities of a Vonnegut story and translating it to the screen is a daunting task, but Katvan expertly handles this. The characters are extraordinarily rich as they find nuanced ways of expressing their thoughts and emotions. This small ensemble cast of three balances one another like an equilateral triangle. Crane’s innocence and drive are at the opposite end of Foster’s personality spectrum as he harbors so many emotions lying just beneath the surface. Foster’s wife, Alma (Rebecca Watson) is the stereotypical 50’s housewife, doing what her husband asks of her, darning socks, and constantly nagging him about money. And together, the story unfolds as beautifully as a blooming rose.
Cinematically, this film is simply gorgeous. The set design, costuming, and camera work accentuate each and every thought, feeling, and spoken piece of dialogue. Even in silence, the images and emotions are strikingly vivid.
“The Foster Portfolio” brings Vonnegut’s brilliant written word to full living color, completely saturating the screen and our minds to tell an extraordinary story about a seemingly ordinary man. While the characters seem a bit off-kilter, they typify a part of us all as we tend to judge a book by its cover. In this case, it’s a Vonnegut book.